Aruba Networks has announced a new family of branch office wireless access points it says can be used to build a cheap but powerful remote access system based on virtual principles.

Dubbed the ‘virtual branch office', the system uses software-upgraded versions of the company's current range of data centre-based hardware controllers connected to one of five models of branch office controllers (BOCs).

The access controllers range from the $1,500 (list: £1,495) 8-port 802.11n model 650 Wi-Fi access switch for workgroup remote offices, right down to a basic $99 (List £95) 2-port RAP-2WG 802.11G box that, the company said, could be used to connect single teleworkers.

The key to the system is that the routing, switching and security functions are virtualised in the data centre itself, leaving the access points to do no work beyond providing a physical or wireless connection to the branch office users. Aruba contrasts this with a conventional IPsec remote access setup, where hardware is replicated at every location and routing is configured between physical devices on a point-to-point basis.

"They can give one of these [the RAP-2G] to every single employee," said Aruba's EMEA director of marketing, Roger Hockaday. "It will automatically connect to the company network and their phone will work as a corporate extension it would in the office." He said.

One of these could literally be mailed to the user or remote office and connected or ‘auto-provisioned' into the data centre LAN by entering a single address, he said.

The downsides are that such a virtual system is overkill for some types of remote access - the occasional use of a VPN for example - and requires the company to have a data centre with sufficient connectivity to sustain a virtual infrastructure to multiple sites.

Currently, Aruba customers would require a new data centre controller, but Hockaday promised that the company would soon be able to upgrade current controllers through software. However, a single Aruba Multi-Service 6000 controller could manage up to 8,000 RAP-level devices and up to 32,000 users.

"Aruba's new VBN solution addresses a major challenge we've tried to overcome for years - cost-effectively networking remote facilities without dispatching IT personnel," said early customer for the system, Bryan Prince of Sylvan Learning.

"The set-up of the RAP-5 was so simple that we had the first unit deployed in just a few minutes. VBN is a truly robust and cost-effective remote networking solution that is invaluable in today's economy."

More information on Aruba's virtual branch office can be found on the company's website.